Of course, it was a tedious process, but looking at the old pictures allowed us to reminisce just a bit and even have a good laugh or two. But there was one set of pictures that caught the interest of my children.
Somewhere in the deepest recesses of my closet was a shoebox filled with a number of pre-wife and kids photos. And as they sorted through the photos, they had a lot of questions about my life then. In fact, they even found a group of photos of a young Max in an Amsterdam café. This one took a considerable amount of explaining.
Anyway, at one point my daughter paused to comment on how happy I seemed then. She observed that I always seemed to be at a party or I always seemed to be surrounded by a large group of people. And as I took a look through the photos, I realized that she was right. I guess I had never really noticed before.
I had no individual shots; all the pictures were group shots featuring me at the center, broadly smiling, my arms around the shoulders of this person or that person. The narrative these pictures told made it appear that I was having the time of my life.
However, the funny thing about pictures is that they can only capture the superficial. They can only capture the outward appearance, the façade of a person, in that fraction of a second it takes for the shutter to open and close. They can tell the supposed narrative the person being photographed would like for you to believe at the time, but this narrative is always in question.
So, in case my daughter got the tacit message that spending an afternoon in an Amsterdam café constitutes real fun, or that one needs to be surrounded by crowds of people to be happy, I had to sit down and tell her the truth.
Yes, I seemed to be having the time of my life. Yes, I seemed to be always surrounded by crowds of people. But the truth is I desperately needed those crowds. The truth is I could not stand to be alone with myself. That is why I spent so much time with others. That is why I was always the last to leave the party. I dreaded being alone with myself because then I would have to face the real me replete with too many fears and insecurities to even mention.
Now I know a great many people, but very few do I count as friends. We speak and talk about issues and common interests, and we come together over the various projects I am involved in, but when it is all over, I wave goodbye and find my way home.
My wife and children and my brothers and sisters are those whose company I most welcome. I do have one or two good friends I spend time with every now and then, but otherwise, I prefer to be alone.
Not that I am a misanthrope or anything; however, I like who I am now. I am comfortable with myself. And every now and then, just like this very moment, I just like to sit and think and explore my thoughts and get to know myself a little better.
Back then, I played at happiness. And I acted the part very well as long as there was a supporting cast around. But now I truly am happy. People and friends and crowds have their place, but they do not necessary correlate to true happiness. What really matters is how comfortable you are with yourself when no one else is around.
Love yourself and be a blessing to somebody.